The non-negotiables: 9 things your employees demand today

Employees still care about wages and holidays. But these days keeping your team members happy and attracting and retaining top talent takes more than a bump in salary and a few more days off. You need to address a growing list of wants and needs that extends beyond traditional demands.

In a recent Korn Ferry global survey, 36% of respondents who said they’re planning to change jobs in the near future are doing so because the pandemic gave them time to re-evaluate what they want. And we’re seeing that same mindset here in APAC, with Microsoft’s Work Trend Index finding nearly half of Singapore respondents are considering leaving their employer before year’s end.[1]

Meanwhile, in Australia, there are more than 350,000 unfilled jobs[2] – and an ongoing digital talent shortage as more companies transition to remote work. There are also critical shortfalls in healthcare, where an October 2020 survey of more than 10,000 Australian healthcare workers found many ready to leave the workforce due to mental health concerns.[3]

With so much talent potentially on the move, now is the time to make sure you know what workers want. A small salary bump might have been enough in the past, but employee expectations have evolved.

The 9 things workers want

From higher pay to a more responsible culture and more flexible working opportunities, here’s what APAC employees want.

1. Higher wages. Although developing a new mindset on total rewards is important, more pay is still front of mind for today’s workforce. Increasing salaries can lead to happier, more productive employees and reduce turnover.[4] However, given salaries are the major operating expense for many organisations, this approach on its own can be unsustainable over the long term.

2. Clear, vocal stances on social issues. Employees expect purpose-driven organisations to take a stand on issues such as social inequity and climate change. Doing so can increase employee engagement and make you more appealing to new hires.

3. A clear path forward. Goal setting can give employees a road map to success and remove the need to leave to achieve career progress. Just remember career mobility requires short- and long-term commitment in the form of establishing personalised milestones and regular check-ins and assessments.

4. Flexible work. This has become a huge priority for workers – with 70% of respondents in Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index wanting flexible work options to continue. Getting the hybrid work model right could give you access to a wider talent pool less confined by location. However, you still need to set up workers with the right equipment and consider subsidising energy and internet costs as well as find ways to maintain a collaborative culture.

5. More paid holidays. Another traditional demand that remains just as important, and could become even more so as travel re-opens. Some companies such as Netflix and Deloitte have embraced more flexible leave policies with great success,[5] though it might not be feasible for all industries and organisations.

6. Work that matters. When employees care about what they’re doing, they’re more likely to enjoy their work and be more productive. Creating a sense of belonging in their organisation through meaningful work is critical to all employees.

7. More training for now and the future. Training opportunities show employees you care about their development, and extend their capabilities in their role.

8. A focus on wellbeing. Expectations for a quick return to normalcy post-COVID have been premature, and continued uncertainty has led to ongoing stress and anxiety. Many companies are investing in programs to help employees adopt and maintain healthy behaviours. Prioritising employee wellbeing can help you attract and retain top talent as a great place to work.

9. Trust in senior leadership. Trust is a hallmark of healthy corporate culture. In a remote working environment, it’s more important than ever to show empathy and practice inclusive leadership through open communication to build and maintain that trust.

How to address these worker needs

Here are four things you can do to address some of these employee demands – and make yourself more attractive to your current employees – and the future talent currently seeking new roles across the region.

Listen to your people

This will help you understand which of these demands are most important to your team, and also build trust between senior team leaders and employees. Send out regular updates and pulse checks, hold virtual town hall meetings or establish a channel in which people can anonymously submit feedback or questions. This can create a culture of engagement and a feeling of being valued, across departments and levels.

Adapt to remote work practices

Even if COVID were to disappear tomorrow, the old way of working is unlikely to return to its original form. Instead of trying to shape the workforce to your preferences, embrace the change. This could mean training executives to better manage a remote workforce or investing in the right tools to keep workflow as efficient as possible.

Update your employee value proposition

Developing a compelling EVP is your way to show your workers you understand – and care about – where they’re coming from. As their demands change, so too should your EVP to reflect those changes.

Review your total rewards

Money still talks. But intangible rewards matter more than ever – including flexible schedules, a focus on wellbeing, and a commitment to a stronger sense of purpose. Total rewards aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution – they’ll require research and development to make them the most beneficial for the most workers.

With so much talent on the move, it might be time to think differently about your talent retention and attraction strategies. Learn more about where to invest your energy and resources to attract and retain the right talent, download: Redefining the employee experience.


[2] Job Vacancies, Australia, ABS, 1 July 2021